Orrin Hatch, a longtime Republican senator, dies at the age of 88

Orrin G. Hatch, who became the longest-serving Republican senator in history when he represented Utah for more than four decades, died Saturday at the age of 88.

His death was announced in one announcement from his foundation, which did not state a cause. He launched the Hatch Foundation when he retired in 2019 and was replaced by Republican Mitt Romney.

He was conservative on most economic and social issues, but nonetheless teamed up with Democrats several times during his long career on topics ranging from stem cell research to the rights of people with disabilities to expanding children’s health insurance. He also formed friendships across the hall, especially with the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

“He exemplified a generation of lawmakers raised on the principles of courtesy and compromise, and he embodied those principles better than anyone else,” Hatch Foundation President A. Scott Anderson said in a statement. “In a divided nation, Orrin Hatch helped show us a better way by creating meaningful friendships on both sides of the aisle. Today, more than ever, we would do well to follow his example.”

Hatch also advocated for GOP issues such as abortion limits and helped shape the U.S. Supreme Court, including defending Judge Clarence Thomas against allegations of sexual harassment during confirmation hearings.

U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh meets with GOP senators on Capitol Hill
Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-UT) awaits in Senate President’s pro tempore office the arrival of Judge Brett Kavanaugh at the US Capitol on July 11, 2018 in Washington, DC

Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images

Towards the end of his career, Hatch became an ally of Republican President Donald Trump and used his role as chairman of the Senate’s powerful Finance Committee to get a major rewrite of U.S. tax rules to the president’s desk. In return, Trump helped Hatch deliver a key issue for Republicans in Utah by agreeing to drastically reduce two national monuments that had been declared by former presidents.

Through Trump, Hatch called for running again, the longtime senator who would have faced a tough primary battle and had promised not to run again. Hatch stepped aside instead, urging Romney to run to replace him.

Hatch was also known for his side career as a singer and record artist with themes from his religious faith, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

He leaves behind his wife, Elaine, and their six children.

Hatch came to the Senate after an election victory in 1976 and became the longest-serving senator in Utah’s history, winning a seventh term in 2012. He became Senate president pro tempore in 2015 when Republicans took control of the Senate. The position made him the third in line of the president’s succession after then-Vice President Joe Biden and Speaker of Parliament.

One issue Hatch returned to during his career was to restrict or ban abortion, a position that put him at the center of one of the country’s most controversial issues for decades. He was the author of a number of “Hatch amendments” to the Constitution aimed at reducing the availability of abortions.

Trump awards honors to prominent Americans at the President's Medal of Freedom
Donald Trump presents the President’s Medal of Freedom to Senator Orrin Hatch.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

In 1991, he became known as one of the most vocal defenders of Clarence Thomas against accusations of sexual harassment by Anita Hill. Hatch read aloud at the confirmation hearings from “The Exorcist,” and he suggested that Hill steal details from the book.

Although Hatch was undoubtedly conservative, there were times when Hatch differed from many of his conservative colleagues – including then-President George W. Bush, when Hatch pushed for federal funding for embryonic stem cell research.

In 1997, Hatch joined Kennedy to sponsor a $ 24 billion program for states to provide health insurance to children of low-income parents who do not qualify for Medicaid.

Hatch helped enact legislation that tightened child pornography laws and made the illegal downloading of music a forensic crime.

For Hatch, the issue of illegally downloaded music was a personal matter. As a Mormon, he often wrote religious songs and recorded music in his spare time as a way to relax from the stress of life in Washington. Hatch earned about $ 39,000 in royalties from his songs in 2005.

One of his songs, “Unspoken”, got platinum after performing on “WOW Hits 2005”, a collection of Christian pop music.

In 2000, Hatch sought the Republican nomination for president, saying he had more experience in Washington than his opponents and that he could work with the Democrats. Hatch readily acknowledged that winning would be a long shot. He withdrew from the race after winning only 1% of the votes in the Iowa Corps and then supported George W. Bush.

He became a strong opponent of President Barack Obama’s 2009 health law after withdrawing from the early negotiations between two parties on the legislation. At one point, he said of the legislation: “It’s 2,074 pages long. It’s enough to make you barf.”

Hatch faced a tough re-election campaign from a Conservative candidate in 2012, two years after a tea party wave, longtime Republican Sen. Bob Bennett of Utah stepped down from office. Both Bennett and Hatch voted for a bank rescue package in 2008 that ranked them far right.

Hatch poured about $ 10 million into his run in 2012 and worked to build support among tea party conservatives.

Hatch was used to playing hard – he learned to box as a kid in Pittsburgh to ward off attacks from older, older students. Without fear of fighting, he said he always made a point of quickly becoming friends with those he had quarreled with.

When Hatch announced he would not seek re-election in 2018, he said “every good fighter knows when to hang his gloves on.”

After moving to Utah in the early 1970s, Hatch – a former bishop of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints – ran for his first public office in 1976, upsetting Democratic Sen. Frank Moss narrowly.

In 1982, he held back challenger Ted Wilson, the Democratic mayor of Salt Lake City, to win another term by a solid margin.

He was never really challenged again.

Orrin Grant Hatch was born in 1934 in Pittsburgh. He married Elaine Hanson in 1957 and graduated from Brigham Young University in 1959. He received a law degree from the University of Pittsburgh in 1962 and was a partner in the law firm Thomson, Rhodes and Grigsby in this city until 1969.

He later partnered with Salt Lake City firm Hatch & Plumb. He had six children: Brent, Marcia, Scott, Kimberly, Alysa and Jess.

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